A Practical Meet-in-the-Middle Attack on SIGABA

George Lasry
The CrypTool Team

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Ingår i: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Historical Cryptology, HistoCrypt 2019, June 23-26, 2019, Mons, Belgium

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 158:5, s. 41-49

NEALT Proceedings Series 37:5, s. 41-49

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Publicerad: 2019-06-12

ISBN: 978-91-7685-087-9

ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


The SIGABA is an electromechanical encryption device used by the US during WWII and in the 1950s. Also known as ECM Mark II, Converter M-134, as well as CSP-888/889, the SIGABA was considered highly secure, and was employed for strategic communications, such as between Churchill and Roosevelt. The SIGABA encrypts and decrypts with a set of five rotors, and implements irregular stepping, with two additional sets of rotors generating a pseudorandom stepping sequence. Its full keyspace, as used during WWII, was in the order of 295 ·6 . It is believed that the German codebreaking services were not able to make any inroads into the cryptanalysis of SI GABA (Mucklow, 2015; Budiansky, 2000; Kelley, 2001).

The most efficient attack on SIGABA published so far is a known-plaintext attack that requires at least 286·7 steps.1 Although it is more efficient than an exhaustive search, it is not practical, even with modem computing (Stamp and Chan, 2007; Stamp and Low, 2007).

In this paper, the author presents a novel meet-in-the-middle (MITM) known-plaintext attack. This attack requires 260·2 steps and less than 100 GB RAM, and it is feasible with modem technology. It takes advantage of a weakness in the design of SI GABA. With this attack, the author solved a MysteryTwister C3 (MCT3) Level III challenge (Stamp, 2010). The author also presents a series of new challenges, which will also appear in MTC3. 1To date, no ciphertext-only attack has been proposed, except for an attack that requires multiple messages in depth (Savard and Pekelney, 1999).

This paper is structured as follows: In Section 1, the SIGABA encryption machine is described, including a functional description and an analysis of its keyspace. In Section 2, prior attacks on SIGABA are surveyed, and a novel MITM known-plaintext attack is presented, including an analysis of its workfactor, and how it was used to solve MysteryTwister C3 (MCT3) challenges (Stamp, 2010). In Section 3 and in the Appendix, new challenges are presented, as well as the reference code for a SIGABA simulator used to create those challenges.


SIGABA cryptanalysis cipher machines meet-in-the-middle attack known-plaintext attack WWII


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